Meadow Muffins of the Mind

The droppings of some guy's imagination.

Cyclone Anaya

Boldly announcing itself on the corner opposite the Angelika theater in the Mosaic District, Cyclone Anaya’s Mexico Kitchen is there to part the spectacularly affluent target audience of the “urban village” near my house from its wages.   I had passed the menu a few times, and had heard enough about it – but when the parents were in town and craving a Mexican experience, this was a lot quicker than going to Arlington and a lot better than some of the local alternatives.  At the same time, it is a cloth napkin sort of place, and the prices on the menu to reflect that – so you have some sort of Lauriol Plaza sort of expectation – or at least hope (and I don’t think Lauriol Plaza is anything special).  What I can report is more or less what I expected.  On the food, it’s not too bad.  For the respective shekel, you really should just hit a good tacqueria.

The atmosphere is pretty good.  Certainly it is clean and the waiter had good manners and a neat uniform and such.  They had a good selection of beer.  With one of the party being vegetarian, they were particularly attentive and knew what stuff was problematic and what wasn’t.  One of the usual harbingers for Mexican restaurant quality – the salsa at the table – was actually pretty tasty with some significant bite.  The nachos were rather odd (almost looked like mini-pizzas, so daintily arranged) but the flavor was there and was hard to be too offended.  That said, the restaurant’s purported specialty was seafood – so I had to try the Lobster Enchiladas.  The lobster was well done and the flavor was ok, but the sauce, a Chardonnay butter sauce was much too buttery to the point of being excessively rich.  The addition of pine nuts probably seemed like a good textural flair, but came off much more as a genuinely weird recipe choice.  Given the potential for what it could be, it did not add up the $25 bill.

Frankly given the $120 (including tip) for 4 adults, the entire experience did not add up.  In that way, it does fit much of the “designer imposter” aspects of Mosaic itself.  I can’t sit here and tell you Cyclone Anaya is a bad place – on the food it’s solid average, maybe a bit above.  But it is the very definition of a “waste of money”.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I have been approaching this write up with trepidation for quite some time.  I devoured Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pretty quickly after Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.  Unlike the previous book, which moved the story along but was frankly rather disposable, it is hard to narrow down what to say about this book to a post that’s less than 5000 words.  Let’s start with the basics.  I read the majority of this 700+ page doorstop in one sitting.  Rowling, in her last Harry Potter novel, has a glorious return to form – managing to avoid most of the mistakes that have plagued creators when we get this far down the road of a saga.

Where we left Harry of course was with his discovery of Horcruxes – objects Voldemort had left all around to assure his immortality.  Harry had been taking special classes with Dumbledore where he was learning about Tom Riddle’s time at Hogwarts and his discovery of the Dark Arts.  Dumbledore had been in the process of destroying Horcruxes and he had taken Harry on a mission to find one of the Horcruxes.  However, upon his return to Hogwarts, we see the school falling into the hands of Voldemort’s Death Eaters, culminating in Snape’s murder of Dumbledore and subsequent escape.  Snape was in the Order of the Phoenix as you may recall, and Harry had been assured of his allegiance, so this betrayal was both shocking while not surprising within context.  Harry decides he has to find the other Horcruxes, and Hogwarts could wait.

This is quite the setup – but there is a LOT more plot.  This is easily the densest of the seven books – no wonder they needed two movies to cover the material remotely adequately – and while only being slightly longer than Half Blood Prince does not slow down for an instant.  Indeed, when the curtain goes up here, Voldemort is clearly winning.  He has taken over Hogwarts, and set Snape up as the headmaster.  Voldemort controls the Ministry of Magic and the Death Eaters are abound terrorizing Mudbloods (part humans) and their sympathizers.  Harry is getting to an age where some of the protection he had is starting to disappear – so they decide he has to get to the Weasleys.  However, he is also enemy number one, so how to transport him?  This trip is an exciting scene, complete with a brilliant plan that Voldemort figures out – and a safe arrival, but not without another Order member dying.

This is an important detail to me.  For a series with so much action, Harry Potter has been very serious and spare with the number of folks who actually die.  So that Rowling kills somebody we know early shows just how serious things have gotten.  Harry was lucky to escape, and if he wants to hunt down these Horcruxes, it will have to be under constant fear of Voldemort.  That Ron and Hermione want to join him only make the journey tougher.  Meanwhile, in the search for Horcruxes, another potential mission reveals itself – all of which comes to a head in the final confrontation you did not need me to tell you about.

The heart of the story is the search for the Horcruxes – and in its telling, Rowling gets down to brass tacks, focusing intensely at the fundamental relationships of this entire series.  The rich other characters we have known – the Weasleys, the Order of the Phoenix Members, Beatrix LeStrange – are almost totally ignored here as we stare down the barrel of what has mattered the most the entire time: the three friends who have endured so much, Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape.  And in these relationships and tensions, the real themes of the series are laid bare – a vision of love, empathy, which comes together in a view of what personal growth is all about.

First and foremost, in its bones – The Deathly Hallows is a love story, and when I say this, I mean it in the most personal sense.  What Harry, Ron and Hermione endure in this quest are the challenges and tests of love that only enduring the ordeal they have endured together can provide.  It is the sort of thing that only comes from knowing people at their most petulant, or at their most desperate.  With the dark forces and the constant fear everyone is living with through the quest – and how isolating it has become – the strain on our heroes becomes palpable.  A scene in a makeshift camp where Ron and Hermione reveal feelings is almost unbearable to read.  How much they mean to each other gushes to the service, in a way that will get the hankies out.

But love is also challenged as more is learned about Harry’s two unresolved relationships.  Yes, in previous books we knew how close he was to Dumbledore, but Dumbledore was really presented as a postcard – a blessed saintly figure who has had to endure all sorts of lies and aspersions.  But during this journey, Harry gets to learn that some of it indeed might not have been false.  Albus was not a saint, but a complicated flawed human, who was a great man nonetheless.  But Harry has to deal with Dumbledore in complex human terms – the way I remember as I learned about my own parents being normal adults with normal adult tics and problems, and not just superheroes (or for that matter losers when I was a teen) of my youth.  Rowling develops Dumbledore with such complexity and richness, and forces Harry to deal with him, warts and all.

Conversely, Harry has to deal with what he learns about his nemesis, Snape.  The bad blood and tension between the two (and principally flowing from Harry’s direction) have fueled much of the series, but we never learned exactly what Snape was all about, and why Dumbledore still trusted him the entire way.  Late in the novel here, we get to see the entire backstory in flashback.  The Snape we learn about in flashback, was also fueled by love, in ways Harry never understood before – and ways that Snape refused to reveal.  Indeed, when Dumbledore and Snape are arguing over plans for Harry – it is Snape who pleads for Harry’s case.  It is the flipside of what Harry had to learn about Dumbledore – that here Snape was not some one dimensional horror show, but a three dimensional adult with reasons.  Now this comes a little close to “just trust grownups” for my taste, but the idea that love is all around is valuable.  Moreover, the lesson of not seeing people as one dimensionally good or bad – and accept the frailties and complexities of life – is something many grownups don’t get.  You just have to look at the proliferation of gun nuts and aspiring “freedom fighters” to get that.

Of course, there is more.  There is the Battle of Hogwarts – and the unlikely resistance leader at Hogwarts (honestly, that made me cry as much as anything else).  There is the subplot of the house elves, which has a lovely resolution too – and the final Harry and Voldemort confrontation ends the way it has to, but without being predictable or cheap.  There is Draco Malfoy, who is even given humanity here when a lesser book might have turned him into a paint by numbers villain.  (there is a lot of optimism about children generally, as there should be from us all)  There is even a useful epilogue.  The resolutions for everybody is pretty satisfying.  If there is a flaw it is that Rowling only concentrates on the core characters for the most part here, but in a sense given the trajectory of the saga, that decision is entirely defensible.  I love this series.

Shakthi

If Burmese food is seen as a traffic accident between Indian and East Asian sort of traditions – then I suppose Sri Lankan cuisine is a traffic accident of Southeast Asian and South Asian traditions.  Of course, I am probably just talking out of my .. uh … whatever.  All I know is that I had a lot of the pangs of my South Indian heritage when I went to Shakthi in beautiful Del Ray, Alexandria.  I had heard about this place from the usual sources (Tyler Cowen), and the life partner had visited Sri Lanka before, so the intrigue was there.  Of course, growing up in a Tamil household, I was curious whether Sri Lankan food offered something different AT ALL.  Indeed, it does – Sri Lankan as Shakthi does it is both totally new yet remarkably familiar, much of the basics of South Indian cooking with very specific differences which fit with its geographic specifics.

I have had both take away and dining experiences, so I will stick with discussing the food.  The menu has Thai and Indian sections – the former since it was a Thai place under prior management, the latter since how the hell will you sell a Sri Lankan restaurant to the masses? (like many other good places, it masks its true love under something more accessible)  From the experience with the samosas, a bit sweet but very yummy, Shakthi negotiates standard issue Indian quite efectively.  But the Sri Lankan stuff is the blocking and tackling here – and it is not at all unfamiliar to those familiar with Indian or Indian-Chinese food.

One of the major delicacies are the string hoppers – Idiyappam in my Tamil vernacular.  However, instead of a sambhar based sauce -these are served with a sambal-coconut milk and either potato or fish curry.  We’ve had both, and the heat is serious – but so is the flavor.  The coconut and sambal combination allow for that heat with enough coconut sweetness keep it from being insane.  The rice stick bundles sop it up wonderfully.  It is a terrific, homey dish – but for me the star is the kotthu roti.  This is a sort of inside out roti, where the roti instead of being a filled flatbread – is torn and cooked in with lamb and pepper and spices.  This is an absolute knockout – the cumin comes through particularly – and the roti acts in almost the same way that noodles in a mee goreng do.  It is such spaghetti and meatballs sort of comfort food – I could have eaten the whole box.  Let’s stop discussing it now.  The jackfruit curry in cocounut milk was also lovely – with a sneaky spice from black pepper which gives it more dimension than they had to.

It’s not dirt cheap, but the entrees were in the $8-14 range, so not unreasonable.  I’ve had their Devil Shrimp – which is a solid stir fry Indian-Chinese sort of shrimp wok dish.  It’s worthwhile but I’d stick with the other stuff.  Just a taste of home with some totally different dimensions.  It’s too far away to be a go-to for us, but when I can do it opportunistically, I must.

2014 NASCAR Alternative Rankings – After Race 16

No, I don’t care about NASCAR.  But the attempts to make the end of the season more compelling amuses me.  Also, I was curious about their points system, which gives a point for 43rd place (starting the engine and driving the car all the way), up to 47 points for first place.  This ended up creating a really minor incentive to win, and with the thrilling celebrations at victory lane, it means the victories were celebrated much more than the actual impact of the win.

NASCAR tried tweaking things yet again … yet this seems to not incentivizing finishing well – while also being very hard to follow.  So, I am experimenting with a system more akin to how open wheel circuits run.  The winner gets 40 points, 2nd place 33, 3rd place 28, then 25 and 22 for the remainder of the Top 5.  20-18-16-14-12 for places 6 thru 10 respectively then one point less for each position down to 1 point for 20th place.  A simple bonus of 4 points is awarded to the driver who led the most laps (and if there is a tie, both drivers get the bonus)  This creates that huge incentive for winning (33% higher than 2nd place if you dominate the race too) while still giving value for strong results.  Using this after Sonoma:

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr (322 pts, 2 wins)
  2. Jeff Gordon (317, 1)
  3. Jimmie Johnson (313, 3)
  4. Kevin Harvick (261, 2)
  5. Brad Keselowski (260, 1)
  6. Joey Logano (239, 2)
  7. Matt Kenseth (238, 0)
  8. Carl Edwards (223, 2)
  9. Kyle Busch (187, 1)
  10. Paul Menard (167, 0)
  11. Denny Hamlin (166, 1)
  12. Kyle Larson (165, 0)
  13. Kasey Kahne (154, 0)
  14. Clint Bowyer (149, 0)
  15. Greg Biffle (142, 0)
  16. Brian Vickers (140, 0)
  17. Jamie McMurray (138, 0)
  18. Ryan Newman (129, 0)
  19. Tony Stewart (129, 0)
  20. Kurt Busch (116, 1)
  21. Aric Almirola (106, 0)
  22. Marcos Ambrose (81, 0)

2014 NASCAR Alternative Rankings – After Race 13

No, I don’t care about NASCAR.  But the attempts to make the end of the season more compelling amuses me.  Also, I was curious about their points system, which gives a point for 43rd place (starting the engine and driving the car all the way), up to 47 points for first place.  This ended up creating a really minor incentive to win, and with the thrilling celebrations at victory lane, it means the victories were celebrated much more than the actual impact of the win.

NASCAR tried tweaking things yet again … yet this seems to not incentivizing finishing well – while also being very hard to follow.  So, I am experimenting with a system more akin to how open wheel circuits run.  The winner gets 40 points, 2nd place 33, 3rd place 28, then 25 and 22 for the remainder of the Top 5.  20-18-16-14-12 for places 6 thru 10 respectively then one point less for each position down to 1 point for 20th place.  A simple bonus of 4 points is awarded to the driver who led the most laps (and if there is a tie, both drivers get the bonus)  This creates that huge incentive for winning (33% higher than 2nd place if you dominate the race too) while still giving value for strong results.  Using this after Dover:

  1. Jeff Gordon (248 pts, 1 win)
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr (236, 1)
  3. Jimmie Johnson (235, 2)
  4. Matt Kenseth (231, 0)
  5. Joey Logano (220, 2)
  6. Kevin Harvick (216, 2)
  7. Brad Keselowski (195, 1)
  8. Carl Edwards (183, 1)
  9. Kyle Busch (178, 1)
  10. Denny Hamlin (141, 1)
  11. Brian Vickers (131, 0)
  12. Kyle Larson (127, 0)
  13. Greg Biffle (122, 0)
  14. Paul Menard (120, 0)
  15. Clint Bowyer (115, 0)
  16. Kasey Kahne (112, 0)
  17. Tony Stewart (109, 0)
  18. Aric Almirola (106, 0)
  19. Ryan Newman (95, 0)
  20. Jamie McMurray (92, 0)
  21. AJ Allmendinger (77, 0)
  22. Kurt Busch (71, 1)

Elephant Jumps

I did not realize how much I missed something like this.  Now that I have nestled into the throes of parenthood and associated domesticity, my restaurant experiences have been relegated to the middle of the road or the land of take away.  Some of those takeaway experiences are quite good – but you are aiming much more for convenience than just a transcendent knockout.  But there I was – with the parents in town to give us a hand with the peanut – eating the very best restaurant meal I’ve had in years, probably since making my first discovery of Hong Kong Palace and the wonders of Sichuan cuisine.  Hell, this was not even my first glorious Thai experience in these here parts.  Thai Square is still terrific, but gosh – what Elephant Jumps offered, especially in its “dining in” form, is just a different matter entirely.

Blessedly, this is not an upscale place.  Located in a strip mall at the corner of Rte 50 and Gallows, it is an easy turn to miss.  There is not a whole lot to say about the atmosphere necessarily that would not apply to any number of suburban Asian places – ok but not special decor, napkins which might have come from “Party Depot” surplus or something.  However, unlike many comparable restaurants – there are small refined touches.  The menu was surprisingly descriptive, describing a “smoky finish”, and the manager who greeted us gave a description of the specials that frankly is of the ilk you’d expect from a Capital Grille.  There was passion and expertise there.

The restaurant offers the normal Thai fare – Green Curry, Drunken Noodles, Tom Yum – but our attention was drawn to the Authentic Thai section (h/t Tyler Cowen).  This section is the heart of the experience, where we got to give ourselves to them.  The menu is very dire – warnings to people with allergies and explanations of why the dishes cannot be altered.  And aside from a wonderful Pad See Ew, this is decidedly not the sort of Thai food you are used to.  Indeed, the three dishes we had represent the best Thai dishes I have ever had.

The first dish is the salad – the best papaya salad I have ever had.  The Thai authenticity is here as the shrimp paste they used was the kapi, the Thai roasted shrimp paste which is fired right before cooking.  The roasted flavor depth is evident.  The heat level was considerable, but was not overwhelming – and when combined with the perfectly prepared sticky rice or the crispy pork rinds, the complete bite works very well.

The main course was the Ka Nom Jee – a noodle dish which was nothing like anything that I have had before.  The dish was served in pieces, to be combined.  This meant we took the noodles, added the coconut milk-ground tuna-fish ball (cutest tapioca pearl sized ones) sauce and pickled mustard greens and mixed it together.  The result was a combination of heat and brininess which evoked Thai yes, but also Keralan cooking and even my limited exposure to Sri Lanka.  The veggie dish we got was a Pad Watercress dish, where watercress – only a wee bit less fresh and crunchy than what you’d get in a bonchon sort of salad – is mixed with a sweet soy.  The result is a watercress that is wholly watercress and wholly the rich comfort of Pad See Ew.  I had enjoyed greens before, but never have I craved them so badly.

It is hard to do a restaurant like this justice – or a meal like this justice.  I will just say that both of us were embarrassed when the waitress came back and asked us if we were still working on our food, when she could clearly see how thoroughly we had laid waste to the serving plates.  I can’t remember enjoying a meal out so thoroughly.

 

 

2014 NASCAR Alternative Rankings – After Race 12

No, I don’t care about NASCAR.  But the attempts to make the end of the season more compelling amuses me.  Also, I was curious about their points system, which gives a point for 43rd place (starting the engine and driving the car all the way), up to 47 points for first place.  This ended up creating a really minor incentive to win, and with the thrilling celebrations at victory lane, it means the victories were celebrated much more than the actual impact of the win.

NASCAR tried tweaking things yet again … yet this seems to not incentivizing finishing well – while also being very hard to follow.  So, I am experimenting with a system more akin to how open wheel circuits run.  The winner gets 40 points, 2nd place 33, 3rd place 28, then 25 and 22 for the remainder of the Top 5.  20-18-16-14-12 for places 6 thru 10 respectively then one point less for each position down to 1 point for 20th place.  A simple bonus of 4 points is awarded to the driver who led the most laps (and if there is a tie, both drivers get the bonus)  This creates that huge incentive for winning (33% higher than 2nd place if you dominate the race too) while still giving value for strong results.  Using this after Charlotte:

  1. Jeff Gordon (242 pts, 1 win)
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr (222, 1)
  3. Kevin Harvick (212, 2)
  4. Joey Logano (204, 2)
  5. Matt Kenseth (203, 0)
  6. Jimmie Johnson (191, 1)
  7. Kyle Busch (178, 1)
  8. Carl Edwards (176, 1)
  9. Brad Keselowski (162, 1)
  10. Brian Vickers (131, 0)
  11. Greg Biffle (122, 0)
  12. Denny Hamlin (119, 1)
  13. Kyle Larson (117, 0)
  14. Kasey Kahne (114, 0)
  15. Paul Menard (108, 0)
  16. Aric Almirola (97, 0)
  17. Ryan Newman (95, 0)
  18. Tony Stewart (91, 0)
  19. Clint Bowyer (90, 0)
  20. Jamie McMurray (84, 0)
  21. AJ Allmendinger (77, 0)
  22. Kurt Busch (68, 1)
  23. Austin Dillon (68, 0)

2014 NASCAR Alternative Rankings – After Race 10

No, I don’t care about NASCAR.  But the attempts to make the end of the season more compelling amuses me.  Also, I was curious about their points system, which gives a point for 43rd place (starting the engine and driving the car all the way), up to 47 points for first place.  This ended up creating a really minor incentive to win, and with the thrilling celebrations at victory lane, it means the victories were celebrated much more than the actual impact of the win.

NASCAR tried tweaking things yet again … yet this seems to not incentivizing finishing well – while also being very hard to follow.  So, I am experimenting with a system more akin to how open wheel circuits run.  The winner gets 40 points, 2nd place 33, 3rd place 28, then 25 and 22 for the remainder of the Top 5.  20-18-16-14-12 for places 6 thru 10 respectively then one point less for each position down to 1 point for 20th place.  A simple bonus of 4 points is awarded to the driver who led the most laps (and if there is a tie, both drivers get the bonus)  This creates that huge incentive for winning (33% higher than 2nd place if you dominate the race too) while still giving value for strong results.  Using this after Talladega I:

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr (198 pts, 1 win)
  2. Jeff Gordon (184, 0)
  3. Joey Logano (170, 2)
  4. Matt Kenseth (163, 0)
  5. Kyle Busch (158, 1)
  6. Kevin Harvick (142, 2)
  7. Brad Keselowski (142, 1)
  8. Jimmie Johnson (133, 0)
  9. Carl Edwards (131, 1)
  10. Greg Biffle (117, 0)
  11. Denny Hamlin (116, 1)
  12. Kyle Larson (105, 0)
  13. Brian Vickers (104, 0)
  14. Paul Menard (88, 0)
  15. Clint Bowyer (86, 0)
  16. Tony Stewart (82, 0)
  17. Ryan Newman (79, 0)
  18. AJ Allmendinger (77, 0)
  19. Kasey Kahne (75, 0)
  20. Aric Almirola (71, 0)
  21. Kurt Busch (68, 1)

2014 NASCAR Alternative Rankings – After Race 8

No, I don’t care about NASCAR.  But the attempts to make the end of the season more compelling amuses me.  Also, I was curious about their points system, which gives a point for 43rd place (starting the engine and driving the car all the way), up to 47 points for first place.  This ended up creating a really minor incentive to win, and with the thrilling celebrations at victory lane, it means the victories were celebrated much more than the actual impact of the win.

NASCAR tried tweaking things yet again … yet this seems to not incentivizing finishing well – while also being very hard to follow.  So, I am experimenting with a system more akin to how open wheel circuits run.  The winner gets 40 points, 2nd place 33, 3rd place 28, then 25 and 22 for the remainder of the Top 5.  20-18-16-14-12 for places 6 thru 10 respectively then one point less for each position down to 1 point for 20th place.  A simple bonus of 4 points is awarded to the driver who led the most laps (and if there is a tie, both drivers get the bonus)  This creates that huge incentive for winning (33% higher than 2nd place if you dominate the race too) while still giving value for strong results.  Using this after Darlington:

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr (180 pts, 1 win)
  2. Jeff Gordon (147, 0)
  3. Matt Kenseth (141, 0)
  4. Jimmie Johnson (133, 0)
  5. Joey Logano (130, 1)
  6. Kyle Busch (121, 1)
  7. Brad Keselowski (117, 1)
  8. Carl Edwards (117, 1)
  9. Kevin Harvick (114, 2)
  10. Kyle Larson (86, 0)
  11. Tony Stewart (82, 0)
  12. Denny Hamlin (76, 0)
  13. Greg Biffle (74, 0)
  14. Brian Vickers (70, 0)
  15. Kurt Busch (68, 1)
  16. Paul Menard (68, 0)
  17. Ryan Newman (60, 0)
  18. Aric Almirola (59, 0)
  19. Clint Bowyer (58, 0)
  20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Austin Dillon, Marcos Ambrose (55, 0)

Siroo

Some restaurants are extraordinary versatile.  The average family restaurant – say, something with pieces of flair for instance – will have something for everybody, with many many dishes and erstaz Mexican, Italian, whatever.  You get American extrusions like Chop Suey or Alfredo – things which do not actually occur in nature (and this is coming from a guy who finds Alfredo all too delightful) – stuff for “everybody”.  Siroo, ain’t that.

Nope, if you hit Siroo in Annandale, you’re pretty obviously getting Korean – stop the presses there.  Moreover, you’re getting dduk, Korean rice porridge, and that’s really it.  Sure, there is a solid bakery, and some fascinating kimchee selections, but the porridge is the clear star.  There are a lot of varieties – vegetable, abalone, kimchee are ones I’ve tried – and they’re really good.  The kimchee has the spice and brininess you want, while all the flavors have that perfect sort of comforting quality that I crave in kongees.  The abalone was not overcooked – just a good textural and flavor accent.

It’s a one trick pony (mostly) – but a hell of a trick.

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